Since the beginning of the month, I’ve been seeing a clip from The Rundown with Robin Thede where she says, “Happy Black History Month . . . or as we call it, Month!” on BET. Quite naturally, I know it was a joke but as most jokes go, it seems to be surrounded by a bit of truth and caused me to ask myself, “Do black people actually celebrate Black History Month?”
Growing up, Black History Month was always important to me and personally, I looked forward to it because it felt like the only part of history that was truly interesting and that I could understand. This was the one time of the year when I was immersed in the knowledge and understanding of influential people who actually looked like me after enduring entire curriculums centered around well, mostly white people.
|Zora Neale Hurston|
Even when taking American Literature my sophomore year in college, only two African-Americans were included in the “canon” of writers who made a mark on American history: Fredrick Douglass and Phillis Wheatley. As a result, I made it my business to take African-American Literature the next semester. Every day I was surrounded by my peers and able to discuss my thoughts on important African-American writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, W.E.B Du Bois, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, and many more.
Each year after that, I participated in the National African American Read-In at my university and felt honored to uphold their memories. These writers, these words, still live with me today and I am grateful for the memories I have from those few months and the opportunity to study them at a time in my life when I was still learning about myself. The experience forever changed the way I look at the world. But as a working adult, I had to learn to continue to honor these historical Black figures and others—and not for the sake of my participation grade or because a paper was due.
When asked if and how they celebrate Black History Month, viral sisters Dani and Dannah shared: “We start off by learning what makes us unique as African Americans and who were some of our pioneers that history books don’t teach us about. Like Janet Collins, she was a ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher. She was among the pioneers of black ballet dancing, one of the few classically trained Black dancers of her generation. We participate in plays and black history programs at our school and church too! Learning about our history is just as important as learning about world history to us! Happy Black History Month!”
Popular Hair & Beauty Blogger, Romance aka @heycurlie, says that she enjoys going to the library with her son and picking up books and learning more about the exceptional contributions made by African Americans. “It’s a great bonding experience to teach my son about his history.”
Natural Hair YouTuber @happycurlhappygirl says she celebrates Black History year-round and during February, she participates in special activities and programs with her daughter at school and church to “highlight and celebrate the history and culture of Black people.”
When I spoke to writer Erickka Sy Savané she acknowledged that she struggled with Black History Month this year. “Given all the blatant racism going on in this country every day I started feeling insulted by Black History Month. Kinda like the government is saying, ‘Here’s your month to celebrate yourselves and after that you can go sit down.’ But then I realized, it’s not about them, it’s about us and if we don’t take a moment to pat ourselves, our ancestors and each other on the back, not only could history repeat itself, we could lose that pride…that magic.”
There’s no right or wrong way to “do” Black History Month as long as you take some time out to appreciate the strides Black people have made. The accomplishments of Black writers, entertainers, scientists, athletes, historians, engineers, activists and entrepreneurs are truly endless. Given our history in this country, we have a lot to be thankful for and proud of.